Archive for the 'Privacy' Category

Sweeping Bad Press Under The Rug Using Junk Blog Comments

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

I noticed an interesting comment on this blog while deleting comment spam a few days ago.

1. Jim Mirkalami Says:
February 6th, 2008 at 6:25 pm

I have been a frequent visitor of this blog for some time now, so I thought it would be a good idea to leave you with my thanks.

Regards,
Jim Mirkalami

It has that “almost certainly spam but hard to be dead sure” feel to it that a lot of spam comments have. Strangely although it is an optional field, he gives yahoo.com as his website. This seemed even stranger when you note he seems to have his own website (jimmirkalami.com) unless there are two single fathers of two with that name in Ontario.

It seems like a pretty uncommon name, so I google for him. The first few links are news stories alleging questionable ethics in Canadian Auctions for jewelry and Persian rugs. Curiouser and curiouser.

Of course, I am only guessing that it is an uncommon name. It could be the equivalent of Smith in the middle east. It certainly seems fairly popular in among Toronto rug merchants.

Here is my theory.

I’d be upset if the first google result for my (fairly uncommon) name led to a page that started “No charges laid …”.

Knowing a little about SEO and the way google ranks pages, I think you could fairly quickly bury those stories by commenting on a lot of blogs. It would be harder if the story was all over major media. Not many blogs have a pagerank that can compete with CNN or the NYT (pagerank 9), but Google ranks local media about on par with a popular blog. There are no shortage of blogs with a pagerank around 5 or 6. Google only gives canada.com 7.

The comments appear to be somewhat targeted. They seem to appear on blogs (but not always posts) that mention the word ‘auction’ or the word ‘Canada’. There are automated comment spam tools that will find suitable blogs for you, or in a little more time you could do it by hand from any of the blog search engines. A few days later he commented on another post of mine that does contain the word auction (because it is about ebay).

The text of that comment is

Jim Mirkalami Says:
February 8th, 2008 at 3:13 pm

I have been visiting this site a lot lately, so i thought it is a good idea to show my appreciation with a comment.

Thanks,
Jim Mirkalami

PS: I am a single dad! ;)

Other ones you will see around the place are:

Tammy kingston, on February 5th, 2008 at 5:18 pm Said:

Jim Mirkalami, the very globally highly regarded auctioneer, is a peaceful man single father of two beautiful children. He is also a regular reader of this blog. Great job you ppl!

Aslan, on February 7th, 2008 at 10:06 pm Said:

He is a kind and very loving man.

I don’t know who Tammy is. I get no useful search results for “Tammy Mirkalami”, but I am guessing she is from Kingston (which is near Toronto). I am guessing the Aslan above is more likely to be Aslan Mirkalami (owner of rugman.com) than a lion king from Narnia.

Does this variety of reputation management work? Sure does. A few days later, and at least the top 10 pages of search results for his name are all blogs. The negative press is presumably still indexed, but has dropped way down the list where only a dedicated searcher will find it. He many have overplayed his hand though, as the first result at the moment is a blogger calling him a spammer.

So here are some morals to this story.

  • If you are going to have dissatisfied customers, make sure you have few enough that only local media cover the allegations.
  • Commenting furiously on blogs will give you Google results that effectively act as noise
  • Try to tailor the comments to the blogs a little. It would not take much more time, and would make the effort invisible.

Oh, and surely you already knew that whenever you buy anything (including rugs and jewelery) valuations from the seller are worth only slightly more than the paper your blog is written on.

Digg’s Kevin Rose Has an Account on User/Submitter?

Saturday, March 3rd, 2007

If you missed it, User/Submitter is a paid service allowing people to buy diggs.

They are very upfront about their business model. Submitters (people who want stories promoted) pay $20 plus $1 per digg. Users (digg users who’s second job as a WoW gold farmer is getting tedious) get paid about 17c per digg. So buying 100 diggs costs $120, and in theory nearly $17 of that gets paid out to diggers, there is a $20 payout minimum, so the chances of many people diligently digging away and making 120 paid diggs before their account gets noticed and shut off seems unlikely. In either case, it is nice profit margin while they can get away with it.

Digg unsurprisingly don’t seem to be fans. Poking around, I can see accounts are being disabled. One of mine got disabled, but that might be a bad example because I was not very subtle. Commenting on stories that I dugg that I had dugg them for 17c is probably more blatant than most. Result:
disabled

Looking at other accounts with suspicious behaviour though I see a few of these:
invalid

Privacy is not particularly well guarded at User/Submitter. If you want to know if a digg user name is registered there, then try to register it. An interesting username to try is kevinrose.

Kevin Rose On User/Submitter

Of course, the experiment is somewhat flawed. You can only check once, and while a negative result is definitive, a positive result might just mean that somebody else performed the same experiment before you. Rumours of Digg’s demise might be popular, but I don’t think Kevin yet needs a side job paying 17c per click.

Suspicious behaviour though is not hard to find. Here are a list of Digg stories that received paid Diggs in the last few hours.
http://digg.com/videos/people/Backflipping_Midget_Chased_by_Cops
http://digg.com/offbeat_news/Russian_wrestling_gone_amazing
http://digg.com/gadgets/The_ULTIMATE_domain_search_tool
http://digg.com/world_news/Photo_essay_Unexploded_bombs_are_everywhere_in_Iraq
http://digg.com/tech_news/Lenovo_Recalls_209_000_Notebook_Batteries
http://digg.com/2008_us_elections/Who_Else_Wants_to_Bash_Bush_Now
http://digg.com/videos/educational/Blind_Turkish_Book_Reviewer_The_Alchemist
http://digg.com/gadgets/Nikon_D40_Review_Good_Camera_at_a_Great_Value

Unsurprisingly, there are a number of the same users digging many of them.

What a social site should do about abuse is a harder problem. Any competitive environment is bound to get people gaming or abusing the system. I am not sure that disabling accounts is the best solution though. If I was a 3rd world subsistence gold farmer sitting in an internet cafe clicking links for a few cents a time and my account got disabled I would just create a new one that needs to be detected and disabled. If my account silently got flagged as a source of worthless diggs, and just ignored in calculations, then I would merrily continue clicking away and over time nearly all bought diggs would be worthless because they would mostly be being paid out to account that have already been detected.

Publicly disabling accounts is good for maintaining the appearance of transparency, but longer term, allowing abusive users individual sandboxes to play in lets them waste time without affecting others. In a system where reregistering under another alias is painless, disabling accounts is not a very effective deterrent.

The Utter Stupidity of AOL is Staggering

Monday, August 7th, 2006

OK, that is not news, but I am paraphrasing Techcrunch’s coverage of the AOL Research data release.

For a while, AOL research put data on 20 million web searches by 650000 of their subscribers up for download. The link was fairly quickly taken down, but once information is released it is very hard to take it back. I am sure you can find a mirror or torrent if you look.

Because is it data on a selection of logged in AOL users, it contains a continuous record of their searches over time (March to May 2006). Because you have a record of searches over a period of time, you can start to make some assumptions about the user or the household and depending on the information the user has searched for you can sometimes identify them.

Most Many commenters on Digg don’t seem to see it as a problem, but then maybe their search history does not make it look like they are searching for information on their family tree, information for English teachers in a conservative US state, the website of a local church, chamber of commerce, and rotary chapter in the same state in between searching for MySpace, cheerleaders, preteen sex and strap on sex toys. AOL has kindly replaced these people’s screenname with a sequential integer but I am guessing if you went to that church, Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary chapter you would be able to pick an English teacher with that surname.

Maybe he made all those searches and deserves to be found out. Maybe he shares one internet connection with his son. Maybe his nextdoor neighbour steals his WiFi. In any case, I expect that the free AOL CD he picked up a while ago might have suddenly become pretty expensive.